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  • Photo: Tony Rotundo

    Photo: Tony Rotundo

    How Does Minnesota's Class of 2023 Compare to Past Gopher Classes? (2005-21)

    From left: Gable Steveson, Dustin Schlatter, Logan Storley (Photo/Tony Rotundo; WrestlersAreWarriors.com)

    On Tuesday evening, the Minnesota staff received their second top-five verbal commitment from the Class of 2023. Cadet World Team member and number five overall Gavin Nelson (Simley, MN) has pledged to stay in-state and wrestle for the Gophers. He'll join number two overall, Cody Chittum (Cleveland, TN), to set the foundation for an incredible recruiting class. While we have almost 23 months until final recruiting rankings will be released for the Class of 2023, it will be hard to top the star power in this Minnesota class. Add in the fact that great wrestlers tend to stick together, so it's safe to bet that another couple of elite recruits will probably commit to Minnesota because of Chittum and Nelson's presence.

    With the pair of top-five recruits on board for the Gophers, it led us to wonder, “How does this group compare to Minnesota's top classes?” Minnesota has been a consistent force on the recruiting trail, though they have not been in the hunt for the top spot very frequently in the last decade. From 2012-21, Minnesota has garnered a top-five team ranking only two times (2015 and 2018). Individually, Minnesota has signed the number-one overall recruit twice since 2005 (2005 and 2018).

    We have various means to compare Minnesota's potential Class of 2023 to their recruiting classes since 2005 (the first year in-depth recruiting rankings are available). Individual pre-collegiate rankings, elite individual talent, recruiting class depth, and impact on the program.

    Top Rankings (Pre-College)

    Both Chittum and Nelson are great prospects. Based on what we've seen from each, through two years of high school, they could have the ability to compete for multiple high NCAA finishes, provided they continue on an upward trajectory. It also should be noted that the recruiting “Big Boards” are updated regularly. Either could ascend (or descend) as we obtain more points of data regarding their future. So, it's possible that one could finish as the top recruit in the Class of 2023.

    As mentioned above, the Gophers have been able to ink the top overall wrestler in the country twice since 2005. They were Dustin Schlatter (2005) and Gable Steveson (2018). Schlatter was deemed the best high school wrestler in an absolutely stacked senior class that included a staggering 13 future NCAA champions (Schlatter, Brent Metcalf, Troy Nickerson, Jake Varner, Angel Escobedo, Jayson Ness, Jay Borschel, Max Askren, Franklin Gomez, David Zabriskie, Mike Pucillo, Gregor Gillespie, Mark Ellis). He would go on to win an NCAA title as a true freshman before injuries derailed his career. Even so, Schlatter finished as a three-time All-American and two-time Big Ten champion. The book at Minnesota has yet to be completed on Steveson; however, he was labeled as perhaps, “The Greatest Recruit of All-Time” coming out of high school. While that may be hyperbolic, it's safe to say Steveson was likely the top high schooler during this period (2005-21) and probably the most heralded since Steve Mocco in 2001.

    Reiterating, Chittum and Nelson do have time to add to their already impressive resumes, but it will be hard to match the accomplishments and legitimate hype surrounding Steveson coming out of high school.

    Edge: 2018 (Steveson)

    Elite Individual Talent

    Sometimes in recruiting rankings, we can get bogged down in the number of top-100/200/300 recruits that a particular college signs. What largely influences the rankings, particularly at a top-tier school, like Minnesota, is their superstars. Now it's difficult to surmise, what exactly entails a superstar, but to make things easy, let's say it's a top-ten recruit. Both Chittum and Nelson are safely within that realm. So, how often have the Gophers been able to sign talent ranked that high?
    The only time since 2005 that Minnesota managed to sign a pair of top-ten recruits in the same season occurred in 2008 when they got #3 Mario Mason and #9 Jake Deitchler. Although Deitchler made the 2008 Olympic Team before ever enrolling at Minnesota, the two combined to qualify for the NCAA Tournament once.

    Others classes that came close include 2018 when Minnesota added Steveson and #13 Brayton Lee. The 2007 class didn't have any top-10 recruits, but did include #11 Sonny Yohn and #15 Zach Sanders. Those two combined to All-American seven times.

    Not far off either is 2005 with Schlatter and #16 Jayson Ness. As of now, this would be the top twosome from Minnesota since 2005. Both were NCAA champions and combined to AA seven times with three Big Ten titles, three NCAA finals appearances and a Hodge Trophy.

    The wrestlers mentioned above (Steveson, Mason, Deitchler, and Schlatter), along with #5 Logan Storley, are the only top-ten recruits signed by Minnesota since 2005.

    I wish that recruiting information would have been more prevalent in the 1990's so we could figure out where the Gophers Class of 1998 belongs. Jared Lawrence and Luke Becker were both first-team Asics All-Americans that year. Both went on to earn All-American honors four times, each winning a national title, and becoming integral players in the school's first NCAA title-winning team.

    Edge: 2023

    Recruiting Class Depth

    So we've already touched on your top-top tier of recruits, but let's look at some of the best recruiting classes amassed by Minnesota top-to-bottom, during this time period. Obviously, we won't be able to judge 2023 against these groups for at least two years, but what are they shooting for? What's the highwater mark?

    Both the 2007 and 2008 classes featured six of the top-100 recruits from that respective year. Even with such numbers, that didn't automatically translate to collegiate success. The only recruit to get on the podium from 2008 was Cody Yohn. The 2007 group had the older Yohn and Sanders; however, they were the only two from the group that ever qualified for nationals.

    In terms of overall production, the 2009 and 2010 classes yielded the most All-Americans (four) for any Minnesota class since 2005. #30 David Thorn (2x), #49 Tony Nelson (3x - 2x national champion), #84 Kevin Steinhaus (3x), and NR Danny Zilverberg (1x) all got onto the podium for the Gophers from the Class of 2009. #15 Dylan Ness (4x), #20 Nick Dardanes (1x), #78 Scott Schiller (3x), and #81 Chris Dardanes (3x) were from 2010. It should come as no surprise that Minnesota finished second in the nation in 2012 and 2014 and third in 2013.

    A class that we have yet to mention thus far, but ranked highly coming out of high school was the Class of 2015. That group was ranked third in the nation and featured three top-20 recruits #11 Bobby Steveson, #19 Larry Early, and #20 Fredy Stroker. Steveson is the only of this trio that qualified for nationals for the Gophers. Early and Stroker both transferred, to Old Dominion and Cornell, respectively. Early would end up making the NCAA Tournament on three occasions and earned All-American honors in 2019.

    Edge: 2010 (with three 3+ All-Americans making the difference).

    Impact on the Program

    Minnesota won their most recent NCAA title in the 2007 season. Since then, the landscape of college wrestling has shifted dramatically. Iowa has reemerged as a perennial favorite. Ohio State and Penn State have shredded the “sleeping giant” reputation and won and won often. Ohio State captured the program's first national title in 2015, while Penn State won eight in nine years (2011-19).

    Could this be the class that puts Minnesota back into national championship contention? Since the school's runner-up finish in 2014, they have not placed higher than seventh (2017 and 2021) at the NCAA Championships. NCAA scoring is predicated on stars, so one or two elite performers can catapult a team into the top ten. With contributions from a couple of others, they can contend for a trophy or perhaps the top spot.

    We have to go all the way back to 2005 to find the class that had the most positive impact on the Gopher program, as it included Schlatter and Jayson Ness. Schlatter was a sophomore and Ness a redshirt freshman during that most recent 2007 title run. That team snapped a four-year run of NCAA titles for Oklahoma State. While Schlatter wasn't able to repeat his NCAA title-winning performance of 2006, he still finished third. Ness notched three falls in a fifth-place showing. In an NCAA tournament decided by 9.5 points, those two were difference makers.

    Ness also left his stamp on the program by becoming its all-time pins leader with 73. In 2010, he was the first Hodge Trophy winner for the Gophers. Steveson joined him as a co-champ in 2021.

    With the amount of talent already in the stable for programs like Penn State, Iowa, Oklahoma State, and Ohio State, it will probably be a more remarkable feat if the Class of 2023 provided the foundation for a future team title. But for now, 2005 is the leader.

    Edge: 2005

    Here are past recruiting classes 2005-2021 for Minnesota. Rankings from 2013 to 2021 are courtesy of MatScouts Big Board. 2010-12 are from my old D1CW site and 2005-09 are from InterMat.


    #39 Bennett Tabor (Simley, MN)

    #64 Vance Vombaur (Windsor, CO)

    #66 Drew Roberts (University, WA)

    #92 Blaine Brenner (Stanley, WI)

    #101 Gabe Nagel (Little Falls, MN)

    #143 Tagen Jamison (Plano West, TX)


    #30 Isaiah Salazar (Windsor, CO)

    #49 Andrew Sparks (Calvary Chapel, CA)

    #77 Aaron Nagao (Esperanza, CA)

    #209 Sam Skillings (Menomonie, WI)


    #27 Devin Winston (Park Hill, MO)

    HM - Martin Wilike (Havre, MT)

    HM - Matt Ramos (Lockport, IL)


    #1 Gable Steveson (Apple Valley, MN)

    #13 Brayton Lee (Brownsburg, IN)

    #29 Ryan Thomas (Graham, OH)

    #38 Patrick McKee (St. Michael-Albertville, MN)

    HM - Jake Gliva (Simley, MN)


    #25 Jake Allar (St. Michael-Albertville, MN)


    #13 Mitchell McKee (St. Michael-Albertville, MN)

    HM - Hunter Marko (Amery, WI)


    #11 Bobby Steveson (Apple Valley, MN)

    #19 Larry Early (Oak Park-River Forest, IL)

    #20 Fredy Stroker (Bettendorf, IA)


    #22 Tommy Thorn (St. Michael-Albertville, MN)

    #46 Ethan Lizak (Parkland, PA)

    #60 Nathan Rose (Sibley East, MN)

    HM - Jack Bass (Robinson, VA)

    HM - Stephen Polakowski (Libertyville, IL)


    #11 Jake Short (Simley, MN)

    #29 Nick Wanzek (Simley, MN)

    #41 Mitch Bengston (St. Cloud Apollo, MN)

    HM - Judson Preskitt (Wyoming Seminary, PA)


    #22 Michael Kroells (Scott West, MN)

    #37 Brandon Kingsley (Apple Valley, MN)

    #74 Sam Brancale (Eden Prairie, MN)

    #79 Dakota Trom (Apple Valley, MN)

    #89 Dylan Reel (Washington, IL)

    #171 Brent Pfarr (LeSeur, MN)


    #5 Logan Storley (Roslyn, SD)

    #76 Brad Dolezal (Marshfield, WI)

    #79 Steven Keough (Apple Valley, MN)

    #138 Jordan Kingsley (Apple Valley, MN)


    #15 Dylan Ness (Bloomington-Kennedy, MN)

    #20 Nick Dardanes (Fenwick, IL)

    #57 Tyler Lehman (West Fargo, ND)

    #78 Scott Schiller (West Fargo, ND)

    #81 Chris Dardanes (Fenwick, IL)

    #137 Seth Lange (Sturgis, SD)


    #22 Alec Ortiz (Newberg, OR)

    #30 David Thorn (St. Michael-Albertville, MN)

    #49 Tony Nelson (Cambridge, MN)

    #84 Kevin Steinhaus (Kerkhoven, MN)

    NR - Danny Zilverberg (Wayzata, MN)


    #3 Mario Mason (Blair Academy, NJ)

    #9 Jake Deitchler (Anoka, MN)

    #34 Matt Mincey (Apple Valley, MN)

    #39 Atticus Disney (Washburn, KS)

    #44 Ryland Geiger (Scappose, OR)

    #91 Cody Yohn (Alamosa, CO)


    #11 Sonny Yohn (Alamosa, CO)

    #15 Zach Sanders (Wabasha, MN)

    #33 Torrey Line (Eagle Valley, MN)

    #73 Cody Marcicki (Powers, MI)

    #80 Joe Grygelko (St. Michael-Albertville, MN)

    #99 Austin Enoch (Redmond, OR)


    #17 Brandon Sitch (Kelso, WA)

    #28 Scott Glasser (Bismarck, ND)

    #51 Mike Thorn (St. Michael-Albertville, MN)

    #106 Adam Everson (Mitchell, SD)

    #127 Joe Nord (Waconia, MN)

    #138 Brent Eidenschink (Detroit Lakes, MN)

    NR - Ben Berhow (Hayward, MN)


    #1 Dustin Schlatter (Massillon Perry, OH)

    #16 Jayson Ness (Bloomington, MN)

    #23 Nate Matousek (Glencoe, MN)

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